Here’s a letter with a familiar request, but it’s written in such a way that I’m forced to rethink my standard answer. Maybe Rowan is right. Maybe there should be a sequel to Bystander.
Thanks for your email.
I appreciate your thoughts on a sequel. And you are right. Though a sequel wasn’t my original intent, maybe it is something I should consider more seriously.
My bias against sequels is that so many seem like a crass money grab, where the only motivation is to cash in on the popularity of the original. There’s got to be a better reason than that. Writing a book is a huge commitment, a lot of time & energy goes into it, you more or less live with the thing for months, and I need a deeper reason to sustain that kind of “all in” focus.
Though, hey, don’t get me wrong. Money is important, I have bills just like everybody else (and two more kids to get through college). I’m not above money — or donations if you’ve got any to spare!
Anyway, okay, I will sincerely give it more thought. I think you are perceptive, in that I slammed that door shut without ever seriously giving the idea a serious chance.
I used to answer that if I did go back to a sequel, I’d want to tell it from the bully’s POV (point of view). Because I don’t like slapping that label on anybody. We all wear many hats, “I contain multitudes,” as Walt Whitman said. Nobody is just a bully, just a target. So I felt there was potential for a story there, bringing out the complex dimensions in a seemingly shallow, unlikable character.
However, I feel like I did that in The Fall, which I hope you’ll take a look at. In some respects, I see it as a companion book to Bystander, or at least a complementary read. I take the so-called bully’s POV, and the story is revealed entirely through his journal entries.
But back to Bystander: You are right — again! — about Mary. I think her story is under-developed. Much of what happens with her is off-stage, as the expression goes. We hear about it, but don’t witness it. At the time, I chose to hone close to Eric and his perceptions. I’m also glad to hear you mention Cody. In fact, I believe that Mary and Cody are the two characters who change the most over the course of the book; you can see their growth; in that respect, they are the most interesting. As readers, it’s always good to look for that, the areas of change and transformation. Cody surprised me. When I started the book, I didn’t intend for him to go off in that direction.
I will say that I don’t mind it when readers half-complain that the ending to a book left them “wanting more.” It sure beats the alternative! I like movies that keep me thinking days and weeks and months after I see them. Good stories should trouble our minds that way. You want the story to live on in the mind of the reader/viewer. If it all gets wrapped up too completely, like a seal box, there’s no room for rumination.
It’s best to leave some windows open.
I promise to open my heart to the idea of a sequel. If you have ideas, I’m all ears. I pay $6 — American cash money! — for any truly amazing idea. After royalties, of course.
I wonder if my publisher would want one? We’ve never seriously discussed it.